Sebastian Cossa’s swagger matches his size.
The Detroit Red Wings made the 6-feet-6, 210-pound Canadian the first goaltender taken in the 2021 draft, moving up to No. 15 to select the gregarious giant. Cossa was general manager Steve Yzerman’s solution to the gaping absence in the franchise’s farm system at that position, and one that was possible to achieve because of a stockpile of picks.
“You hope you’re getting a starting goaltender,” Yzerman said. “We think he has the talent to do that. There’s a lot of work to be done between being drafted and being a starter in the NHL, but we think he has that ability. He’s big, very athletic, technically sound.”
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Cossa, 18, posted a 17-1-1 record with a 1.57 GAA and .941 save percentage in 19 games with the Edmonton Oil Kings in the Western Hockey League. He played 33 games for the Oil Kings in 2019-20, posting a .921 save percentage and 2.23 GAA. He’s determine to reinforce the Wings’ belief in him.
“The confidence I have in my game, I think I am going to be the best goalie in this draft,” he said. “I think I got picked where I should be.
“I think my play earned it for me.”
Jesper Wallstedt, an 18-year-old who played in the Swedish Hockey League this past season, had been projected to be the first goaltender taken; he went at No. 20 to the Minnesota Wild.
As the draft moved into the teens, Yzerman and his cohorts at Little Caesars Arena brainstormed on how to get a mid-teen pick.
“We thought we better get on the phone,” Yzerman said. “Somewhere around 15, we figured the goalies might start to get off the board.”
Yzerman acquired the Dallas Stars’ pick for the No. 23 pick he acquired from the Washington Capitals in April’s Anthony Mantha trade, the No. 48 pick from last year’s Marc Staal trade with the New York Rangers, and the No. 138 pick acquired in April’s Jon Merrill trade with the Montreal Canadiens.
Cossa was on alert when the Wings moved up to make their second selection.
“I was getting antsy, for sure,” he said. “Then Detroit traded up. Then I heard my name called and it was straight excitement. I couldn’t be happier.”
By size alone, Cossa doesn’t give opponents much net to shoot at. In butterfly pose, his shoulders still reach the crossbar.
“I try to use it to my advantage,” he said. “I’m able to still skate well, and tracking the puck well is something I really focus on. When I’m seeing the puck well and being able to skate well, and then have good depth in my net, size can only help me there.”
He’s quick to get to pucks behind his net and send them to a teammate.
Cossa has the size and athleticism to become a franchise goalie, and the demeanor, too. An admirer of Montreal’s Carey Price and Nashville’s recently retired netminder Pekka Rinne, Cossa thrives on playing the most unforgiving position in hockey.
“I love the pressure and I love the stress that comes with it,” he said. “I don’t get stressed. I love the pressure of being that last guy back there and being the villain, or the hero.”
The more they talked to Cossa in pre-draft interviews, the more the Wings liked him.
“He engaged with us,” director of amateur scouting Kris Draper said. “He asked us some questions about being a Detroit Red Wing. I thought that was pretty good and very mature of him, to ask questions to us.”
On another call, Draper called on former teammate Chris Osgood. Few could give better insight into how tough it is to be a goalie in Detroit than the guy who wept after giving up the series-clinching goal in the first round of the 1994 playoffs and a guy who backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup in 1998 and 2008.
“Ozzy had two stints and he was able to talk about the early days of his career and he told some real valuable stories that I think Sebastian really appreciated,” Draper said. “And then he also talked about when he came back on his second stint and how he was a different goalie. I think that conversation really registered with Sebastian.”
So did the conversation where Draper referenced another former teammate and Cup champion.
“I was fortunate to play with one of the greatest competitors in the net in Dominik Hasek,” Draper said. “I talked with him about that, I talked about Dom’s work ethic and the expectations that he had on himself and why he wanted to come to Detroit. I have to be honest with you, his eyes lit up. We talked about that.”
There’s a third Cup champion goalie that warrants mention regarding this pick because in 2012, Yzerman signed off on drafting Andrei Vasilevskiy at No. 19.
“I don’t want to compare Sebastian Cossa at this stage to Andrei Vasilevskiy,” Yzerman said. “It’s going to take a while, I can’t tell you if it’s two or three or four or five years, I really don’t know. But we think he’s a really good prospect and has potential to be a starter.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.